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Geek of the Week – Meagen Voss

Meagen Voss is Geek of the Week! Meagen has spent the past three years offering up her talents in both Kramden’s refurbishing warehouse and classroom. Thank you, Meagen, for your support and dedication to Kramden’s mission!

Favorite Geek Books: There are too many for me to list. So I’ll just note that the most recent nerdy adventure I enjoyed was The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal. It has everything: space, intrigue and heroic engineers!

Favorite Geek TV Show: The show that I rewatch over and over again is Avatar: The Last Airbender. Technology is very rudimentary in the Avatar world but the characters were still huge geeks because of how willing they were to improvise, experiment, and invent new things.

Favorite Geek Movie: Captain Marvel is my new favorite. Not only does it include space elements but it has so much 90s nostalgia, I had to haul out my pogs collection after watching it.

Favorite Website: To be honest, it’s Lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning). Every time I need to learn a new skill or coding language, I usually start there.

What is the geekiest thing about you? I write my own fiction adventures and insert easter eggs for readers to find as they read to encourage them to hack the code. I’m planning to launch a self-published project some time next year.

What is your favorite thing about volunteering with Kramden?  Knowing that the work I’m doing will help give kids a shot at understanding technology even more deeply than I did at their age. I didn’t learn to code until I was in my 30s. I strongly believe that’s a skill kids should be learning in elementary school.

Best Kramden Moment?  Showing a student how to use the terminal in Endless and watching her squeal with delight. I think a new developer (or hacker???) was born that day.

When you are not volunteering at Kramden, what do you do?  For work, I spend my time translating geek speak to business speak as a marketing and technical writer for IBM. For fun, I crochet, write fiction, hike in the mountains and spend as much time as I can cuddling with my old cat Disco.

National Drone Safety Awareness Week – Drone Flight Camp Highlight

Since 2016, Kramden Institute has been offering Drone Flight Camp as part of our summer camp series. In this camp, students learn about the flight characteristics unique to drones, industry terminology, FAA guidelines for recreational use, emerging drone-related careers, and much more! During camp students get to practice flying a variety of small drones with different capabilities, perform simulated missions, and even program flight plans. As part of National Drone Safety Awareness Week, we thought we’d share some photos and feedback from some of our happy campers!

2019 Drone Flight Camp Participants
Programming a drone using Scratch.
Students pose as a giant drone.
Cheering on a programmed drone as it flies to the target.

What did the students like most about Drone Flight Camp? Here are a few responses from past campers:


“I liked learning the controls of flying a drone, how to fly it, the different challenges, the team building, and the competitive elements the most about the camp.”

“The thing that I liked most about this camp was doing FPV (first person view) drones.  These were on the simulator and on the bigger drones.”

“All the drone flying was awesome and the simulators were cool, plus the teachers were awesome.”

“I liked programming the drones using scratch.  I also liked the drone simulator.”

“I liked the obstacle courses that we made.”

Kramden offers a wide range of technology classes and camps throughout the year. Visit https://kramden.org/education/ to learn more!

SIM-RTP Continues Longtime Partnership with Kramden

The Society for Information Management (SIM) is a professional network that brings together IT leaders to share, network, and give back to their communities. SIM’s RTP Chapter first collaborated with Kramden Institute in April 2008 at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and has been supporting Kramden’s mission to bridge the digital divide ever since.

SIM-RTP volunteer awards a computer to a family at Kramden in 2013

“One of our key philanthropic missions focuses on education and support of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) related activities for local K-12 communities. Kramden offers a perfect fit into this mission by providing education and access to technology for underserved populations throughout the triangle area as well as across North Carolina.”

– John Rinehart, SIM-RTP Board Member – Philanthropic Chair
John demonstrates how to set up a computer with a Kramden Tech Scholar in 2018

This past Saturday, SIM-RTP sponsored another Mini Geek-A-Thon at Kramden. During the event, volunteers gathered to participate in various refurbishing projects and award computers to local deserving students.

SIM-RTP serves several local groups, along with Kramden, that focus on mentoring and supporting K-12 students who are developing their technology skills. As SIM-RTP Board Member John Rinehart explained, “Quite honestly, the members of SIM learn as much from these young people as they do from us.”

To learn more about how your group can help support Kramden’s mission, visit https://kramden.org/group-sponsorships/ .


Area Adults Participate in Lenovo Funded Computer Basics Course


Technology is advancing at a rapid pace, and an understanding of computer basics is invaluable. Over 75% of recently surveyed individuals reported that after completing Kramden’s Computer Basics classes, they felt confident using a computer.

Lead Instructor, Lile Stephens, demonstrates text editing in a word document.

This month, another group of local adults gathered in Kramden’s Lenovo Learning Lab to take advantage of 8 hours of free basic digital literacy training. Whether students were new to the computer or just wanting to brush up on fundamentals, participants learned valuable information they could utilize every day at home or in the workplace.

Students practiced holding and moving a mouse, learned how to save and share documents, and for those who didn’t have an existing email address, even set up an email account.

Students practice using a mouse.

Each class participant will receive a free refurbished laptop computer with one year of technical support to complement their training thanks to funding from the Lenovo Foundation.

Chapel Hill Electronics Collection

Donate your unwanted electronics. Reusable equipment will be refurbished by Kramden Institute and distributed to families in need.

https://www.townofchapelhill.org/Home/Components/News/News/14741/22

Electronics Exploration Camp Recap

Our first attempt at taking our Electronics Exploration camp offsite was a success! Last month, Kramden partnered with the City of Raleigh Parks and Recreation to offer an exciting week of camp for middle schoolers at the Chavis Center. Throughout the week campers learned about Ohm’s Law and general electrical engineering principles and were given the opportunity to build and modify multiple circuits. Students opened up some toy instruments to modify sounds and even permanently soldered together a project. At the end of the week, campers took home all of the parts for their circuit kits and all of their schematics.

Campers circuit bend a music toy to cause sounds and behavior not intended by the manufacturer.
Campers test their “dark detector” nightlight circuits.  
A student borrows two additional kits to create a super-circuit.

Kramden offers a wide range of classes and camps for individuals interested in gaining valuable hands-on technology experience. Visit https://kramden.org/education/ to learn more!

Ned Dibner’s Conception Builds Brighter, Higher-Tech Futures

By: Al Daniel – Reposted from the Montessori Community School Blog

Read the original here.

Sometimes the Montessori Community School’s greatest effects come to fruition on other campuses.

Ned Dibner was merely 13, and one year removed from graduating the Upper Elementary program, when he witnessed what is commonly called “the digital divide” as it relates to American education.

During Dibner’s time at MCS in the 1990s and early 2000s, computer usage in schools was a fairly primordial practice. As is the case even today at his first alma mater, plenty of learning happened away from a screen.

With that said, MCS has long made the most of its allotted technology. Dibner, for one, says he has “fond memories of teambuilding while playing the early computer game, The Oregon Trail, as a group” around the classroom computer.

Elsewhere, however, other schools have struggled to keep up with technological evolution. That reality dawned on Dibner after he aged out of MCS and finished middle school in the Durham public system.With the help of his father, Mark, he sought a solution. The result is a nonprofit known as Kramden, a backward-spelled compound of the co-founders’ first names.

Kramden repurposes and refines whole or parts of used computers, giving them a second life as tools for underprivileged students. When the digital divide occurred to them, the number and the academic standing of those students in need startled and motivated both Dibners.

“The juxtaposition of going from an affluent private school to a lower-income public school was stark, to say the least,” said Ned. “I had learned unrealistic standards of fairness and equality, which became the driving catalyst for Kramden. Seeing others unable to get the same grades because they lacked access to a computer seemed unjust.”

As Mark recalls, the charity angle came out of the blue when the Dibners finished a father-son computer rebuilding project. He had purchased a motherboard on eBay, despite admittedly not knowing what a motherboard was, and acquired the other requisite parts from a North Carolina State University engineering student.

With everything in place, he and Ned would construct the latter’s own computer, splitting all of the fees via the dad’s salary and the son’s wages from his part-time jobs.

After the project proved surprisingly easy and not-so-surprisingly satisfying, they craved a means of doing it again and again for others.

“Ned turned to me,” Mark remembers, “and said, ‘Dad, that was fun, but there are many kids in my middle school who do not have computers in their homes…Let’s build some more to give to them.’

“I was touched by Ned’s caring words.”

The new incentive resurrected a brand name the Dibners had coined while Ned was still at MCS and Mark was teaching entrepreneurship at the Duke University Fuqua School of Business. The household’s resident student wanted to learn from the master how to launch a company. In response, as an incredible simulation more than an enterprise with real-world intentions, the two joined forces to conceive Kramden Innovations.

Complete with its own Internet domain, Kramden lay dormant for two years before Ned acquired his new construction skill and philanthropic desire. Mark sought more information from Ned’s middle-school principal, and the Dibners took action to make their brand a benefactor.

At its launch in June 2003, the charity started by catering to the honors program at the school. It produced 42 devices, one for every honor-roll student who lacked a computer to call their own at home.

So far in its first 16 years, the Kramden Institute has reported more than 34,000 donated machines, a number Mark expects to rise to 37,000 by the end of 2019. In 2018, the organization enlisted 3,437 individual volunteers and recycled 223,680 pounds worth of E-waste.

Kramden has served school districts in the vast majority of North Carolina’s counties plus pockets of other states and countries. In addition, its current executive director, Michael Abensour, sits on the board of the Alliance for Technology Refurbishing and Reuse, which Mark notes is “the largest group” in this mission.

Ned remained formally involved in his foundation until 2009, at which point he was a freshman at Elon University. During that six-year stretch, he served in a range of capacities while the team proliferated.

“I learned about managing volunteers (this is very different than managing employees),” he said. “One summer I was in charge of warehouse and storage of equipment. Another summer I helped run a summer camp for kids who needed computers where we taught them to refurbish computers themselves.”

As the infectious grasp on the technology spread, so did the desire to help. Besides nearly 4,000 volunteers, Kramden’s present-day roster credits 13 staffers, 13 volunteer leaders, 42 “super geeks,” two champions, three advisors, and the 12-member board Mark still chairs.

The crux of Kramden’s mission remains the still glaring need across North Carolina, where Mark says nearly one out of every five households still lacks a computer. But it has also partnered with the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club to supply technology to communities in Kentucky and, internationally, in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

“We expand our reach every year,” said Mark, and the same goes for the organization’s involvement with its beneficiaries.

Since 2014, beyond refurbishing the equipment for students, Kramden has also offered cyber-education classes and workshops to novice users of all ages. This initiative has taken one of Ned’s old duties, which involved imparting the computer construction skills he himself had learned from his father as a forerunner to the charity, off his hands. In turn, it has allowed him to pursue other passions and deploy other talents of his elsewhere.

While Ned naturally stays in the loop on his co-foundation, he puts his professional energy into utilizing the fine arts degree he earned at Elon. Currently employed as a craftsman at Eidolon Designs in Raleigh, he got an early start in displaying his proficiency on the heels of graduation. As one of his earliest career achievements, his submission for a woodworking contest was among those displayed at the Smithsonian in the fall of 2012.

Besides the accolades and the offers, Ned had an easier time relinquishing his direct involvement with Kramden because of its accrued quantity and quality of full-time and volunteer workers.

“This is a personal decision after handing over the reins to far more capable hands,” he said. “I believed it was my time to move on to other things.

“I had a large part in creating something on a grassroots level, but it has become so much more.”

While the statistics and geographic range confirm that second point, Kramden keeps itself moving on its premise. It is there to make computers as commonplace across the educational scene and other workplaces as they were at Ned’s first school. The one active holdover from its founding still poses the question his son did after his eye-opening exit from MCS.

“Can you imagine being a student (or adult) in today’s world and not having access to a computer and the Internet in today’s world?” Mark said.

Local Students Conclude Tech Trailblazers Mini-Camp

For many students, increased access to technology and training can provide a real sense of empowerment. Last week, eleven Tech Trailblazers participants learned the skills necessary to put together their own computer to take home.

At the conclusion of camp, one local 9th grader reflected on how he planned to use his computer and his favorite parts of the program.

Kramden’s Tech Trailblazers program offers students in grades 6-9 hands-on experience working with computer hardware, software, and networking. Students learn IT skills and explore technology careers as they work in Kramden’s refurbishing warehouse to build their own computer.

Visit https://kramden.org/education/ to learn more about Kramden’s classes and camps.


Kramden Partners with STEM West

Partnerships with organizations across the state allow Kramden to expand its impact beyond the Triangle. This spring, Kramden Institute teamed up with STEM West to distribute 240 computers to deserving students in Caldwell and Alexander Counties.

Computers ready for distribution at
Granite Falls Middle School in Caldwell County

STEM West was created in 2013 to “have a positive influence on STEM education and ultimately the workforce and economic development of western NC.” STEM West’s mission is to advocate and support the alignment of educational and occupational objectives through the regional workforce and community partnerships.

Each school district in Caldwell and Alexander county set aside a day last month to train students and their families and distribute desktop computers. Along with a demonstration of the computer’s many preinstalled programs, families were also provided information on how to access more affordable internet.

I wanted to thank you for the desktop. It has already been of great help to me, I know that the school could have used these for the new school and instead you gave them to students who don’t have a computer so they can work on projects at home. I think that is so generous and have never heard of a school caring about their students to do this.

Email excerpt from Granite Falls Middle School student

Kramden plans to continue its partnership with STEM West to expand its reach to more students in the western part of the state. To read more about STEM West, visit http://www.wpcog.org/stem-west.

Durham Residents Complete Computer Training and Receive Desktops

Recent Kramden Digital Literacy graduate and Durham Housing Authority resident Theresa was looking for a way to “jump-start a new chapter in her life” when she signed up for computer classes at McDougald Terrace’s TA Grady Center this April. She said she hoped to brush up on her skills and get a computer to use for school.

Kramden’s basic computer classes explore a variety of topics from simply learning the fundamentals of using a mouse and keyboard, to creating and editing documents, and navigating social media sites.  Upon completion, class participants receive a computer system for home use. To date, nearly 2,000 individuals have participated in Kramden’s Digital Literacy program since 2014.

Class participants follow along as instructor Bill Koeb discusses Office programs.

For Theresa, finishing the class meant not only acquiring a computer to practice her recently acquired skills, but also a boost in self-confidence.

“I’m so thankful to be completing this class. It helped me to believe in myself again. I’m going to register for classes at Durham Tech this summer, and because of this class, I now have the equipment and the self-confidence I need.”

Theresa W, Digital Literacy Class Participant

Last week, at the conclusion of the fourth course, Theresa and 17 other Durham Housing residents received their desktop computers to take home. The computers, along with eight hours of free computer training, were provided by Kramden Institute and made possible with grant funding received from Google Fiber.